Adam Scher and Way Elementary initiated Making Thinking Visible in Oakland County. Adam shared the following insights in an interview with me. This interview will be posted in three parts.
Adam Scher, Principal of Way Elementary, Bloomfield Hills
Developing a Culture of Thinking & Using Visible Thinking (Part I)
Every Bloomfield school was asked to engage in a new initiative that addressed proven practice and increasing achievement. I discussed this expectation and Visible Thinking with our SIT (School Improvement Team) team. Our team is voluntary but 21 teachers come in monthly. We decided to become a school of Visible Thinking. We approved two teachers to travel with me to Saginaw to participate in a professional development with Ron Ritchhart. He demonstrated one of the Visible Thinking routines, and we immediately saw the power and value of this instructional approach. We brought this back to the SIT team and the members agreed that this would be our new initiative. The SIT team discussed how to proceed and what to focus on at each stage of implementation.
Year One Focus
We decided that every teacher would try the Visible Thinking Routines. It was important for the leadership team, teachers and administrator, to work on developing trust so staff would be willing to risk doing things new and different. We emphasized that it is okay to make mistakes and have a routine fail when you are at this stage. As the administrator, I was sensitive to the fact that elementary teachers tend to have perfectionistic expectations of themselves which can inhibit risk-taking. At staff meetings, we discussed their experiences as they tried the various routines. All our professional development wrapped around this new initiative. The staff and the PTO became committed to Visible Thinking as our instructional approach.
To provide support to staff, we had Ron Ritchhart work with our parents. We also hired a VT (Visible Thinking) coordinator for two days a week who works with teams of teachers at every grade level and with specials teachers. The coordinator meets weekly with each team to review where they are and to discuss questions, concerns and successes. In the first year she focused on helping them learn about the correct placement of the different routines in the instructional cycle. To realize the benefit of thinking routine, it is important to know if it is best suited for the introduction, the middle or the end of the lesson or unit. An example is one teacher’s use of the See/Think/Wonder routine. She put up a picture of President Obama and the flag to begin a unit in social studies. She asked the students to record what they saw, what they thought and what they wondered about. She learned that the students did not have enough prior information at this stage of the lesson or unit. It would work better to stimulate and deepen thinking if used at the middle or toward the end of the lesson or unit.
Watch for part II on Wednesday, May 15, 2013.